The greatness of Richard Strauss lies in the way in which he maintained his romanticism in music, even while being part of one of the most chaotic ages of world history. In an age which was dominated by jet engines, television and atom bomb, Strauss established a very successful music career with numerous operas, orchestras, tone poems, ballet music and symphonies. His contributions to 20th century music were undeniably immense that they made him a great influencing force as well as a glorious summation of late romanticism. The fact that he enjoyed a successful career as a composer and internationally acclaimed conductor, and worked with some of the most prominent composers, artists and writers of his time is a testimony to his genius. The immense success which he enjoyed in the post-war era however faded as his physical and mental health deteriorated witnessing the unfortunate political turmoil and the consequent division of Germany.
Childhood And Education
Richard Strauss was born in Munich in Germany on 11 June 1864 to Franz Strauss who worked as a horn player in Court Opera in Munich. As a child, he received music lessons from his father. When he became six years old, he wrote his first composition. During his childhood days, Strauss attended orchestra rehearsals in Munich Court Orchestra, when he also received private tuition in orchestration and music theory from the assistant conductor. The year 1874 was an important year in Richard Strauss’s life; he heard its first Wagner operas, which had a profound influence in Richard’s style. However, in the early days, his father, who was conservative in nature, forbade him in studying Wagner’s compositions because, they were very progressive and hence, were not appreciated much by the conservative musicians.
In the year 1882, Richard Strauss went to Munich University where he studied Art, History and Philosophy. A year after joining the University, he dropped the course and left to Berlin. There he attained the post of Assistant Conductor to Hans Von Bulow. The latter was impressed a lot by Richard Strauss’s serenade for wind instruments. Strauss also learned the art of conducting, which he learnt by observing Bulow. Impressed by the young composer, Bulow decided that Strauss must be his successor of Meiningen orchestra after Bulow’s resignation in 1885.
Those compositions which Strauss composed at this time were profoundly influenced by Robert Schumann or Felix Mendelssohn. His work ‘Horn Concerto No. 1, Op. 11’ reflects this specific period and is a staple of modern horn repertoire. Richard Strauss married Soprano Pauline de Ahna on 10th September 1894. They led a happy married life and she was a great mode of inspiration for him. The couple had a son named Franz, born to them in 1897.
As A Composer
Solo And Chamber Works
The early compositions include solo and chamber works though some of the piano solo which was composed in a harmonic style is lost. Some of the works includes a cello sonata, a piano quartet, Violin Sonata in E flat (1888); as well as a handful of late pieces. The years after the 1890’s saw him compose for chamber groups.
Strauss adopted a new style of composition after meeting Alexander Ritter in 1885. Ritter’s persuasion led Strauss to abandon his conventional style and start writing more tone poems. He is also credited for introducing Strauss to Richard Wagner’s essays and also the works of Arthur Schopenhauer. All this led Strauss to conduct one of Ritter’s operas. Ritter’s influence resulted in Strauss writing more tone poems such as Don Juan (1888), Death and Transfiguration (1889), Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks (1895), Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1896), Don Quixote (1897), A Hero's Life (1898), Symphonia Domestica (1903) and An Alpine Symphony (1911–1915).
20th century saw Strauss turning his attention to operas. He was working as a conductor at Berlin's Hofoper. This resulted in the birth of a few unforgettable works which include Salome (1903-1905), Elektra (1906-1908), and Der Rosenkavalier (1909-1910), to name a few. In 1919, Strauss became the co-director of Vienna Staatsoper though he resigned after 5 years after he was forced to do so by his partner, Franz Schalk.
The period of 1930’s made the political situation In Europe dangerous. Though he was initially involved in the Nazi propagandas, he refrained from the Nazis as well as their rivals. Though following the Second World War he was permitted to resume his work, he was a mere shadow of his prior fame. He began having serious health issues with his financial condition being compromised.
Richard Strauss died on 8th September 1949, at the age of 85, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. Strauss’ wife, Paulina died after eight months at the age of 88 on 13 May, 1950.
Even during his lifetime, Richard Strauss was regarded as one of the greatest composers of his lifetime and of the 20th century. The great composer’s influence on the 20th century music was profound and intense. There is hardly any composer who is comparable to Strauss with regard to orchestral imagination and one who has made significant contribution in the history of opera. The later works of Strauss which are modelled on the works of ‘Mozart’ are nothing short of remarkable.
The list of Franz peter Schubert’s works are innumerable. Some of them include:
- Stage Works (Operas, Incidental Music)
- Orchestral Works (Concertos and Similar Works, Tone Poems, Other Orchestral Works)
- Chamber Works
- Vocal/ Choral Works (Songs for Voice and Piano, Songs for Voice and Orchestra, Choral Works and Other Vocal Works)
- Piano Works
- Ballet music